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Work Rectangular Altar Table

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Christian and Byzantine Art

Table d'autel de forme rectangulaire

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Christian and Byzantine Art

Author(s):
Charlotte Lepetoukha

When Christianity became the official state religion in the fourth century, it opened the way for the construction of churches and the creation of liturgical furnishings. This simple marble plaque with its dedication no doubt served as an altar table in a religious building. This type of object was widely used since Roman times, proof of the continuity of classical forms in the Christian era.

A marble table

The piece is a simple rectangular plaque of polished marble, whose sculpted borders constitute the only decoration. The edge features an ancient inscription in Greek: "In accomplishment of his vow, Romanos, son of Daniel and Anastasia, makes an offering to Mary Mother of God, being originally from the village of Evareia Kadama". On the back, several interconnected Greek letters — we can make out pi, rho, omega, and perhaps a theta — form a monogram. This is not unusual on this type of plaque; it is thought that this is the signature of the quarryman.

A Christian altar

This type of object is well known — these tables were created en masse in the East and distributed throughout the Mediterranean world. The shape of a table — rectangular, circular, and semi-circular — was unconnected with its intended use, whether as a dining table, religious altar, or funerary plaque. The function can only be determined by studying the decoration, the inscriptions and the place of discovery.
Here, the dedication to "Mary Mother of God", an expression that was used as much for the Virgin Mary as for the consecration of a building, leaves little doubt. This modest table was doubtless intended for a small religious building in which, supported by a central support or four legs, it was used as an altar.

Reading the inscription

This type of table, used from the Romans through the Christian era, is a good example of how objects created in a pagan context were reused in a Christianized setting, hence the persistence of forms from antiquity. However, given their widespread distribution, determining the date and origin of this type of object is difficult. Once again, the inscription can help us discover this information.
Thus, the eastern origin of both the plaque and the dedicant can be deduced from the names mentioned as well as the use of particular idioms from the eastern part of the Mediterranean basin (UPERI instead of UPER).
In addition, the use of "Mary Mother of God" is a precious aid in dating this object. It indicates that this table was probably made after 431 AD, the date of the Council of Ephesus. At this ecumenical council, it was proclaimed that Mary was the mother of God. The drawing and the form of the monogram, which appears in the shape of a cross in the second half of the fourth century, leads us to fairly confidently date this work to the first half of the fourth century AD.

Bibliography

N. Duval, C. Metzger, « Tables et reliquaires du Louvre », Recueil du Musée National XVI-1 Archéologie, Belgrade, 1996, pp. 311-314

Technical description

  • Table d'autel de forme rectangulaire

    Première moitié du VIe siècle après J.-C.

    Provenance inconnue

  • Marbre blanc

    L. : 105 cm. ; l. : 67,80 cm. ; Pr. : 3,20 cm.

  • Acquisition, 1973

    N° d'entrée MNE 683 (n° usuel Ma 3662)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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